1825/1 Capped Head Left Half Eagle
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #290
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …………
Half eagles are U.S. $5 gold coins, and were minted for use in commerce from 1795 to 1929, though not in every year along the way. All 1825 half eagles are extremely rare and all are overdates. The 1825/1 ‘in the news’ is PCGS certified as an “1825/4/1” and will be auctioned on Thursday, Aug. 13 by Stack’s-Bowers in the Rarities Night session of an official ANA auction as LOT # 10246. This coin is PCGS graded as MS-61 and is CAC approved. It has very reflective surfaces, sharp design elements, and a frosted head. This 1825/1 or “1825/4/1” half eagle is lively and extremely rare.
There is not a pedigree mentioned in the auction catalogue. I was able to determine that it is not the NGC graded MS-61 coin that ANR auctioned in 2005 and it is not the PCGS graded MS-61 coin that the Goldbergs sold in January 2014. Further, it is not the Norweb Family 1825/1. It is already widely known that this coin is not the Byron Reed piece, which was auctioned by Christie’s-Spink in 1996 and twice by Heritage over the last ten years.
“This coin looks like lot #467 in the Garrett Collection, Part I, auction by Bowers & Ruddy in November 1979,” researcher Dave Stone finds, in response to my inquiry. While Stone is usually correct in pedigree tracing, he did not seem certain in this case. I am not certain either. So, I asked Saul Teichman for a second opinion. “Yes, it is the Garrett coin. There are enough similarities to match them,” Teichman asserts.
Stone notes that the pictures in the Garrett catalogue show a “distinctive scratch in the left obverse field between star 5 and the Capped Head.” Although this coin has such a gash, it is pleasing overall for a 61 grade, pre-1840 gold coin, and is unusually entertaining. Indeed, it is lively. This 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) really must be seen in actuality to be appreciated.
Dates or Just Die Varieties?
Although all 1825 half eagles are overdates, there is a controversy as to whether those of the first variety (1A; BD1) should be properly referred to as: 1825/1, 1825/4, 1825/‘effaced 4,’ 1825/‘partial 4,’ or “1825/4/1.” Although the then widely accepted notion that this first variety (1A) is an 1825/1 was challenged in the past, especially by the late Harry Bass, Saul Teichman “always believed” that it was an 1821 obverse die that was overdated to produce this variety (1A) of 1825 half eagles. Indeed, Saul has said as much to me for more than twenty years.
Traditionally, these (1A;BD1 and now 1B;BD3 as well) have been termed 1825/1 overdates, and those of the second variety (2A; BD2) are certainly 1825/4 overdates. The third variety (1B; BD3) was recently discovered by a collector, David K., while closely inspecting images of the Byron Reed coin. The ‘1B’ die pairing involves the same “1825/1” obverse, the die which experts at PCGS now call “1825/4/1” and experts at NGC refer to as 1825 over “partial 4.”
The reverse (tail) die of this ‘1B’ die pairing was previously not acknowledged as having been used with any ‘1825’ obverse die. That same reverse die was used during other years in the 1820s.
It makes sense for numerals to be employed to refer to obverse (front) dies and letters to refer to reverse (back) dies. The Sheldon system for large cents, BB system for early silver dollars and Overton system for bust half dollars are confusing and require more explanation than a die pairing identification system where obverses are numbers and reverses are letters.
A die is a hard metal rod, usually somewhat cylindrical in shape. On the face of the die, at one end, the design elements of one side of a coin were punched such that the design will be brought about during striking. An obverse (head) die and a reverse (tail) die are placed in a mechanical press to impart designs on prepared, blank, round pieces of metal (planchets), which are then transformed into coins. Other methods for making dies or producing coins are beside the present topic.
Die pairings ‘1A’ and ‘2A’ share the same reverse. Coins of die pairings ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ were struck from the same obverse die and different reverse dies, A and B.
Dies employed for the same issues are usually not much different. The logistical placement and spacing of letters, stars and other design elements may vary. If the numerals in the year or design elements are different enough to be to be readily apparent without magnification and be otherwise very important, then there may be two or more different ‘dates’ of the same year, denomination and design type. A die variety that has the status of a distinct date will be worth more than it would be if it is regarded as just additional variety of one date.
The debates regarding the identities of 1825 overdates are probably not over, and hundreds of thousands of dollars may hang in the balance. When 1825 half eagles of the first variety (1A) were generally thought of as 1825/1 overdates, the 1825/4 overdate (2A) had the status of being a distinct date, not just another die variety. If they are readily apparent, an 1825/1 overdate and an 1825/4 overdate are considered two different dates by coin collectors.
So, before Harry Bass argued that the 1825/1 was really an 1825/4, someone who collected Capped Head half eagles ‘by date’ (and not by die pairing) would have felt compelled to seek two 1825 half eagles for a complete or nearly complete set ‘by date,’ an 1825/1 (1A), which is now known at PCGS as an “1825/4/1,” and a blatant 1825/4 (2A). In Breen’s comprehensive encyclopedia of 1988, the 1825/1 is listed as such and there is no evidence there that Breen regarded the 1825/1 as an 1825/4.
For decades, most interested coin enthusiasts held that the 1825/1 (die pairing 1A) is really an 1825/1 thus not an 1825/4; the blatant 1825/4 (die pairing 2A) was considered the only 1825/4. If so, the 1825/1 and the 1825/4 would each be distinct dates, in terms of the concept of a ‘date’ in the culture of coin collecting. The blatant 1825/4 was therefore considered one of the rarest of all U.S. coins, as just two are known.
The Eliasberg-Pogue, blatant 1825/4 (die pairing 2A) will be auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in the near future. Although I have never examined that coin, I wonder if the PCGS certification of MS-64 is controversial. Experts in the past have suggested that this coin is a Proof.
The Kaufman-Sansouncy-Suros, 1825/4 blatant overdate (2A) is NGC graded as AU-50. I have examined this coin, in the early 1990s and again in 2008. It is not a Proof, though it was very well struck with much reflectivity in then fields. Due to cleaning and legitimate wear, it is impossible to precisely envision the structural characteristics of this coin when it was minted. It is unlikely, however, that it is a Specimen Striking.
In 1999, the Kaufman-Sansouncy-Suros coin brought $241,500 in the Superior auction of the Juan Suros Collection, a substantial sum at the time. From 2006 to 2008, many coin enthusiasts tended towards the Bass-Dannreuther position, as published in 2006, that “1825/1” half eagles (1A) are truly 1825/4 half eagles, not 1825/1 half eagles. On July 31, 2008, when markets for rare U.S. coins were peaking, the Kaufman-Suros, blatant 1825/4 (2A) was auctioned for $690,000.
On Aug. 21, 2008, Doug Winter referred to the Kaufman-Suros 1825/4 as “one of the greatest United States gold coins in existence”! Winter asserted that the $690,000 result was reasonable, “not the $1 million or so that I thought it would bring, prior to the sale.”
It would make more sense to regard the $690,000 result as a compromise because the controversy, then and now, has not been completely resolved, at least not to the satisfaction of all those with heavily weighted opinions. If there had been near-unanimous agreement that the Kaufman-Suros and Eliasberg-Pogue, blatant 1825/4 (2A) half eagles were the only two known of a distinct ‘date,’ then the Kaufman-Suros coin probably would have brought from $1.0 to $1.4 million on July 31, 2008. An NGC graded AU-58 1804 dime sold for $632,500 that same night, which is not as rare and not quite as exciting.
In contrast, suppose that the Bass-Dannreuther (2006) position is true. In another words, suppose that all the 1825/1 coins are really 1825/4 (not 1825/1 or 1825/4/1) half eagles, then the Kaufman-Suros and Eliasberg-Pogue 1825/4 half eagles would just be among the twenty-five to thirty known of the 1825/4 date, as hardly anyone collects Capped Head half eagles by die variety.
Given market realities on July 31, 2008, when price levels were higher than they are now, the $690,000 result seems to be in the middle of the two perceptions of 1825 half eagles. As one of two known of a ‘date,’ the Kaufman-Suros 1825/4 would have had a retail value in the neighborhood of $1.3 million. Coin markets were really booming that summer. In contrast again, supposing that all die pairings of 1825 half eagles were thought of as being the same ‘date,’ then this “AU-50” coin would then have had a retail value of less than $100,000, even with a premium for an ultra-rare die pairing.
The $690,000 result is ‘right in between’ in an odd logical sense. Though the $690,000 result was too low for a semi-unique U.S. gold coin and too high for one of twenty-five or so 1825 half eagles, it is mathematically sound as a probabilistic expected value, since there was not a concensus as to whether there are two (over)dates of 1825 half eagles or just one, 1825/4.
The Eliasberg-Pogue, blatant 1825/4 (2A) is of much higher quality than the Kaufman-Suros coin. Further, market conditions over the next two years will be different from those that prevailed on July 31, 2008. It will be interesting to analyze the price realized by the Eliasberg-Pogue coin and perceptions of that coin, after it is auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers, probably in 2016 or 2017.
Of course, 1825/1 (which are known at PCGS as “1825/4/1”) half eagles have been much less expensive than blatant 1825/4 (2A) halves. On June 30, 2005, ANR auctioned a NGC graded MS-61 coin for $46,000.[Shown at Left] It might have been consigned by an accomplished collector from Alabama.
The NGC graded MS-61, Byron Reed 1825/1, which is the discovery coin for the third die pairing (1B), was auctioned for $51,750 in January 2007 and for $99,875 in January 2014. Later in January 2014, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS graded and CAC approved MS-61 1825/1, without a named pedigree, for $91,063. The presently offered piece, which Dave Stone finds is likely to be the Garrett Family coin, has not recently sold at auction, as far as I know.
Rarity of All 1825 Half Eagles
Whether those year 1825 half eagles with obverse #1 are called 1825/1, 1825/‘partial 4,’ 1825/‘effaced 4’ or “1825/4/1,” PCGS and NGC together have graded twenty of them. This total probably amounts to fifteen to eighteen different coins, and includes the sole known representative of the third variety with a different reverse, the Byron Reed coin (1B).
There could be others of the third variety. All the known 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) half eagles have probably not been inspected with the idea of identifying the reverse die that was employed during striking.
As already discussed, of the second variety (2A), the blatant 1825/4 overdate, just two coins are known. With consideration of coins that are non-gradable or were judged to be non-gradable in the past, and maybe two or three clearly gradable coins that has never been submitted to PCGS or NGC, it seems that fewer than thirty ‘1825’ half eagles of all varieties survive. The Bass-Dannreuther book (2006) and PCGS CoinFacts put forth similar estimates.
If, as Saul Teichman has been saying for years, an 1821 obverse die was used to make the coins of the first (1A) die pairing, is it best to continue to refer to these as 1825/1 overdates, as they have been called for decades or to refer to them as “1825/4/1,” as is now done at PCGS? The 1825/‘partial 4’ terminology that is now employed at NGC would not be entirely accurate if an 1821 die was overdated.
The “1825/1” name seems to be the least confusing and is consistent with past reference guides and auction catalogues. Is it really certain that a 4 was ever punched into this die? Any 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) is extremely rare and the one in this auction is better than most of the survivors.
Capped Head Half Eagles in Context
Eight coins are needed for an entire type set of U.S. Half Eagles: Bust Right – Small Eagle (1795-98), Bust Right – Heraldic Eagle (“1795”-1807), Bust Left (1807-12), Capped Head (1813-34), Classic Head (1834-38), Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ (1839-66), Liberty Head [with] ‘Motto’ (1866-1907), and Indian Head (1908-29). It is often maintained that there are really two types of Capped Head Half Eagles, ‘Large’ (1813-29) and ‘Small’ (1829-24), though these are very similar.
This list of design types is provided as a reminder of the history of half eagles. Any 1825 would be an unlikely choice for a type set. There are several issues of Capped Head Half Eagles, especially including the 1813, that are much less rare than any of the year 1825!
There are two subtypes of Capped Head Half Eagles. These are often referred to as two very distinct design types.
Capped Head half eagles dating from 1813 to 1829 have a larger diameter than those dating from 1829 to 1834. There are additional differences. Clearly, coins of the first subtype are characterized by larger numerals, stars and letters. ‘Large Date’ and ‘Small Date’ are the best terms to distinguish the two subtypes of Capped Head half eagles. While the difference in diameter is mildly noticeable, the differences in the sizes of the numerals are somewhat more noticeable, though many collectors would not notice or remember any such differences.
All Capped Head half eagles are similar in an artistic sense. It is best to categorize the whole series of Capped Head half eagles (1813-34) as a single design type. The second subtype, of 1829 to 1834, really involved minor modifications of the first.
The least rare Capped Head half eagle is the 1813. In an article on CoinLink in 2007, I hypothesized that approximately four hundred survive. It is thus rare, though not very rare. The total number of 1818 Capped Head half eagles, including all varieties, is between one hundred and two hundred. Furthermore, there could be more than one hundred 1820 half eagles. Of every other date in the Capped Head half eagle series, there are fewer than one hundred coins known!
Although there are fewer than twenty-seven 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) half eagles in total, if this overdate is classified as a distinct date, it is not one of the five rarest dates in the series. In addition to the already mentioned blatant 1825/4 and the effectively unique 1822, 1815, 1821, 1828/7, 1828, and both 1829s are rarer than the 1825/1. Others may be as well. Even so, the ‘1825/1,’ now known at PCGS as the “1825/4/1,” is extremely rare, close to being a Great Rarity.
This specific 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) reflects light in a dynamic manner and is cool. It was a pleasant surprise to view it. Usually, coins that are PCGS or NGC graded as 61 are not sensational.
This 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) appears much more impressive in actuality than it appears to be in published images. The gashes, which are largely responsible for the assigned 61 grade, are not bothersome when the actual coin is tilted under a lamp.
Like more than a few 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) half eagles, this coin was struck from a heavily polished obverse die. The reverse exhibits a warm ‘mint frost,’ a texture much different from that of the obverse. The reverse, too, is lively, though in a different way. This coin is attractive overall.
The obverse has nearly full mirrored surfaces. The head of Miss Liberty contrasts with the fields in a semi-cameo manner.
On both sides, many design elements are relatively squared, form somewhat sharp angles with the fields rather than seem to flow from the fields. Dentils, toothlike structures at the borders, tend to be well formed and high. For various reasons, I figure that this coin was probably struck twice.
Though not a Proof, this coin could have been a special striking of some sort, maybe. In 2005, a cataloguer for ANR, in regards to a different “1825/1,” noted that “most” 1825/1 half eagles “have a deeply prooflike obverse and less prooflike reverse. The Bass and Norweb coins have both been described as one-sided Proofs.”
In my view, this coin is a mildly different from Capped Head half eagles that were produced by ordinary means. Other 1825/1 (“1825/4/1”) half eagles, however, have some such characteristics as well. It is not implied that a tremendous premium should be paid for this one. The main points are that this coin is extremely rare, directly related to an important debate, physically cool and exciting overall.
©2015 Greg Reynolds